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Friday, December 10, 2004


Mark Brumley

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day: "I said I was 'a' god; I didn't say I was 'the' God."

Deism has the problem of accounting for a widespread knowledge of God in the absence of revelation. A deist might argue that merely because God caused to be a universe that gave rise to intelligent beings doesn't mean that God wants humans to exercise their intelligence to know him.

It's hard to understand why such God would create a universe that gave rise to intelligent beings without thinking that God wants humans to know him, but let's assume that our ability to know God's existence by reason is a byproduct of God's creating us, not a reason he created us. The problem remains: How to account for the widespread affirmation of God's existence?

Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) affirms the reality of divine revelation (although Islam denies that God reveals *himself* in revelation and insists that he only reveals his will). The reason, on this view, so many people know about God is because God has disclosed truth of his existence in ways that don't depend on the philosophical skills of people to attain knowledge of him.

Philosophical knowledge of God is something not everyone gloms on to, because not everyone has the time, inclination, or the background to study and assess philosophical arguments. So positing a world of philosophers all reaching the philosophical conclusion of God's existence is unworkable as an explanation for the widespread affirmation of God's existence.

One might argue that knowledge of God is innate. But that seems to be contrary to experience. And even if true, it doesn't help deism. Why would a deistic God create a race of beings with innate knowledge of his existence? The only plausible explanation for God doing such a thing is so that human beings could come to know him. But a God who wants to be known is more than the God of deism.

Another possibility is spontaneous, prephilosophical knowledge of God. Assuming such a thing is distinct from innate knowledge of God, we again must ask why a God who is unconcerned with human affairs would create a universe that gives rise to beings with spontaneous, prephilosophical knowledge of his existence. Creating beings who *happen* to be able to know of God's existence because they *happen* to have emerged as rational beings from a universe a rational God made but with which he is unconcerned is hard enough to believe. But to suppose that these same beings would possess spontaneous, prephilosophical knowledge of God by sheer accident is too much.

Imagine you discover an island of primitives. They tell of a box with a glass window that shows moving pictures. Sounds come forth from the box as well. The sounds and sights, they say, come through the air from far away and are captured by the box. Would you suppose that this primitive people, with no technological acumen, dreamed up what sounds like a television? Or would you suppose the more probable explanation--that they had had contact with someone who showed them a television or at least told them about it?

Likewise, are we to suppose the ancient Israelites, with no philosophical pretentions arrived at the idea of the One God, uncaused, eternal, spiritual, and related tenets of theism all on their own? Or is it more reasonable to suppose Someone had spoken to them?

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